Photo: Iris Nesher
By Esty G. Haim
Translated from Hebrew by Yardenne Greenspan
Daylight savings time ended, and it got dark early. I don’t like the dark, but at least it’s easy to disappear in it. I walked fast, as if I had to be someplace, like at the dentist’s. I crossed Rabin Square, which was empty save for three elderly men on a bench and a few hungry pigeons. The autumn breeze caressed my legs and rose up under my skirt and into my underwear. Once upon a time, when I’d just moved here, before I met Shauli, I would lie naked on the roof, spreading my legs, letting the wind caress my body on the inside.
I tried to walk faster, but I started panting. I asked myself, What are you doing? Ever since Shauli left, all you do is wander. And when you aren’t wandering, you’re lying on the mattress in the corner of the room, the mattress that had absorbed all your juices, with your hand on the emptiest spot in your body. You can’t keep going like this, you’ve got to start recuperating. A woman walked in my direction, pushing a baby stroller. She was also moving quickly, probably afraid the baby would catch a cold. I started to cry. The phone used to ring at this exact time every day, and Shauli’s voice, quiet and low, would say, Come over. And I would.
Lights went on in store windows, the clothes and shoes and books all carefully arranged. I thought, Why don’t you go in, buy yourself something new? Something red, maybe. Shauli loved it when I came over in my red dress, no underwear. I would spend a long time getting ready for our dates, standing in front of the mirror in my closet door, applying perfumed body lotion, drawing a black line under my eye and painting a liquid line above, shaping my lips with pink pencil and filling the shape with the reddest lipstick ever, almost burgundy. I loved preparing myself, as if I was painting a second face on top of my own. That way, Shauli couldn’t know who I truly was. He would pull off the red dress and slowly discover my body. Faster, I would whisper. Faster. I wanted him to eat me up, to devour my entire body, I couldn’t wait any longer, but he just put a finger on my mouth and kept touching me, slow as a snake.
I didn’t buy a thing. I had to be thrifty, because I was taking time off work. I couldn’t go back there. After all, that’s where I met Shauli.
Kids rode their bicycles down Hen Boulevard, and I almost crashed into them, wanting so badly to get there already. I paused outside the park, near the Culture Palace. My chest was full of cold air. There, you can turn around now and go back to your room, I tried to tell myself. I’d already gotten used to thoughts emerging from my mouth out loud and to people looking at me as if I were nuts.
Shauli saw me before I saw him. I would push the cart with the clean sheets and towels down the long hallway of the hotel, going into the messy rooms, shoving the dirty sheets into a sack and smoothing the corners of the new sheets. Sometimes I’d even lie down for a moment on the enormous beds, picturing the people who would soon be checking in. Maybe a pair of secret lovers who had a weekly tryst. The man arrives first, unlocking the door. Some hotels have magnetic card keys, but this one didn’t. The man is about fifty, wearing gray pants made of gabardine or some other elegant, important-man fabric, and a light blue shirt and tie, but also Adidas sneakers. He walks over to the window, glances down at the distant street, and closes the dark curtains, to make the room dimmer. Then he looks at himself in the large bathroom mirror, takes a seat at the foot of the bed, glances at his state-of-the-art watch, a watch that is also a stopwatch, a phone, and even a laptop, and waits. When she knocks on the door he lunges, then pauses to collect himself, walks slowly, and only opens the door a crack. She wriggles in through the narrow opening. She’s about forty-five, pretty, wearing a younger woman’s clothes, jeans and a burgundy t-shirt, a bit too short around the midriff. They stand in front of each other for a moment, and he touches the skin of her belly peeking from under her shirt. I like to fantasize about the way they cling to each other, body to body, their lips connecting, sucking the insides of each other’s mouths, the way Shauli used to do to me. I imagine them already naked, her body lithe and his back a little wide, covering her. They keep kissing standing up, their clothes strewn all around, his tie on the vanity chair. She makes little sounds like an animal purring, and he reaches his hand between her legs. “You’re so wet,” he whispers in her ear, the way Shauli used to whisper to me, and his finger goes and in and out, slowly at first, then faster, faster. She moans, murmuring his name, Shauli, Sha-u-li, her voice broken, moving his other hand, the one holding her waist, lower, between the soft cheeks of her round, slightly wide ass.
Then I’d get up quickly, smooth the bedding, and leave to keep pushing the linen cart down the long hallway. When I finished I would change out of my uniform and back into my own clothes and go down to the lobby to linger in an armchair, drinking a coke Meir the bartender gave me, watching the people, trying to guess which of them were that couple I’d imagined, pretending to be a guest rather than a maid.
The wind grew stronger and my skin turned into goosebumps, but I headed straight to the path leading to Jacob Garden, as dark as a theatre without a movie playing. I didn’t even know if anyone was going to be there today.
I thought about Shauli, how he walked up to me one day, leaned down, and said, “I’ve been watching you. You must be a model.”
Shauli looked like an American cowboy, with jeans, a denim shirt, and a cowboy hat. I looked at his face as he leaned toward me, and thought he was so handsome, even though he was a little ugly, but he had this look in his eyes that made me want him to stay. He did stay, and got me another coke from Meir the bartender. Then he asked, “So, are you a tourist?” I was too embarrassed to tell him what I was, and just nodded. “Are you?” I asked, and he said, “I’m here on business.” We said nothing more until I finished my coke. Then he said, “Come on. And I did.”
The path was so dark I could barely see where I was going, and wondered why they didn’t light the lamps. Maybe it was because, even though it looked late, it was only six o’clock.
Shauli gathered me into his arms like a baby, explaining that because of his work he would only be able to meet in the afternoon or evening. Then he turned me onto my stomach and licked my back all the way down to my butt crack, pulled down my pants and fucked me from behind. Afterwards, as we lay on his big hotel bed, he whispered, “I’m crazy about you. I’m going to take you with me to El Paso, Texas. I’ll give you a totally different life.” I rested my head on his chest and closed my eyes. He was such a man, macho, strong, but when he removed his hat, his denim shirt, his denim pants, and his denim underwear, he would become a slightly older man, with white hair on his chest, and sad, smiling eyes that wouldn’t let me go. Once, as he sat in the chair and sat me on his lap, with my back to him, grabbing my waist and raising and lowering me onto his dick like a seesaw, I glanced down at his feet and saw his big toes pointing at each other like the feet of a tearful boy who had an accident, and I knew he wasn’t truly strong, but I didn’t care.
There were times when I was tired or was having my period, or when I told myself, He’ll never take you to El Paso, Texas. When he calls, don’t answer. When the phone rang I would pause for a second, then pounce on it and pick up.
After he checked out of the hotel, he decided he was sick of hotels, so he came to my place. He spent a whole month at my place, on my mattress. Sometimes, when I moaned too loud, he would put his large hand on my mouth, whispering, “Shhh, the neighbors are going to call the police.” But he always gave in, because he liked the sound of my moans.
I didn’t have any boyfriends before him. Back home, Mama didn’t let us spend time with boys. Ever since Papa took off, leaving her with my five brothers and me, she always said, “Never get married. What is it good for?” Then I decided to move to Tel Aviv, and she held my hand at the Central Bus Terminal and said, “No boys, they’ll ruin you. Don’t goof off, and keep away from strangers, you hear me?! Don’t go to any parks after dark. Those are the most dangerous places.”
When I was little, just after Papa left us, I’d run out to the little park near school. I would stay there till it got dark, and I wasn’t afraid at all. One time, I saw a man sitting on a bench. He was surrounded by plastic bags and was wearing three coats, one on top of the other, even though it wasn’t winter. I asked him why he was wearing all those coats, but he just nodded. I told him my father went to another country and that I wouldn’t be seeing him for a long time, and he nodded. I also told him about my brothers and my mother, the way she spent evening talking to herself at the kitchen table, then swatting an invisible fly, getting up, and sitting back down, always sighing, until finally she leaned her head on her hands and fell asleep sitting up. The man smiled and nodded. Before I left I wanted to hug him but he shook his head no. So I asked him if he wanted me to lift up my skirt, the way I did for my little brother Yossi. He nodded.
I came to the park a few more times after that to meet the man with the bags and the coats and tell him more things, and lower my sweatpants, just to let him look, not touch. I tried to ask him about himself, what his name was and where he lived, but he shook his head no. On my eleventh birthday I ran to the park with a piece of the chocolate cake Mama made me. I decided this time I would wrangle out his name and whether or not he had children, and would even give him a birthday hug, but the park was empty.
Mama walked me onto the bus. On the steps she said again, “Be careful in the city, especially with people you don’t know.”
I didn’t know anybody at first. I would lie on the mattress in my room, dreaming about the future. That’s all I could think about. Then I began going to Jacob Park, or down the boulevards, or to Meir Park. I would sit on a bench, looking at people’s faces. Sometimes I’d talk to somebody, about nothing special, just the fact that I was new here and looking for work, that the day was pretty and made me feel like I could do anything I wanted. Other times, there was nobody there. Then I got the hotel job and met Shauli.
One morning I woke up and he was gone. It was raining. I stayed home all day like a bum, recounting the previous night, how he had touched my skin and penetrated me again and again, how we fell asleep, and how he woke me up with his tongue. After I came, he whispered, “I’ll take you back to Texas with me.” I asked him to tell me about El Paso, but he closed his eyes, and I lay awake for a while longer, enjoying feeling my body, being wanted, wanting. I started kissing Shauli’s chest with the white hair again, moved down to his stomach, then lower, until he woke up. Then I fell asleep without showering or brushing my teeth, my mouth still wet with him, and dreamed about a large white house in El Paso. My whole family would come visit me, and I wouldn’t need to work anymore, and the sun would be even stronger than it is here, a big yellow sun right in my face, and the whole dream turned yellow, like a burnt film strip. When I woke up he was gone.
I reached the large tree under the bridge just as one streetlamp lit up, stuttering a little, going off, then turning on again. On the bench, I saw the man with the long coat and the torn sweater peeking beneath it, and the old supermarket cart filled with packages wrapped in newspapers. He lay on an old blanket, curled up like a wrinkled sheet. He was very quiet. For a moment I thought he might be dead, so I touched his foot. He twitched a little and I moved away, glancing at the enormous tree that children sometimes climbed in the afternoon, and at the benches, and at the café in the back that spread some light and music by that American singer, I forget his name, and wondered how all this had even happened: how I met Shauli and how I could have been with him in Texas right now, in his big, pink bed, living a completely different life.
I touched my stomach under my shirt, but I couldn’t feel my body the way I could back then, when Shauli wanted it and everything was aimed at it, not only between my legs, but also my lips, nose, tongue, breasts, belly button, stomach, ass, even toes, and when I walked down Hen Boulevard or Rothschild Boulevard, I’d smile like a fool, looking at nobody. All the strangers on the benches were just strangers, neither good nor bad.
I walked back to the bench where the homeless man was sleeping. I looked at his face. His eyes were closed and his cheeks a little shiny, as if wet with rain, though the air was dry. He opened his eyes for a moment and I could see, in spite of the dark, Shauli’s eyes with that look that wouldn’t let me go. I thought about Shauli, how his tongue slipped into my mouth the first time he kissed me at the hotel. I leaned down and kissed the lips, which tasted like liquor and something a little salty, maybe olives.
He paused for a moment before returning my kiss, and I lay on top of him on the bench, slipping my hands into his coat, under his sweater, finding the skin that was nice and smooth, as if he were a young man with an old man’s face. My hand went lower, touching his pubic hair, and his dick that was growing and growing inside his smelly pants. He held me, touching my entire body like a madman, moaning, “Oh, oh,” like he was dying. I put my finger on his lips to silence him.
Without a word, I pulled down his pants and underwear and put his sticky dick in my mouth. I didn’t let him come. Instead I lifted my shirt and leaned over him. He sucked on my nipple, hard, almost biting me. His hands held me tightly under my arms, as if he was afraid I might suddenly leave. I pulled up my skirt and sat on top of him. A man and woman who walked out of the café passed right by us. I think they even glanced in our direction before fleeing. I didn’t care. I didn’t care about anything.
When it ended, I got up, wiped myself off with my skirt.
He propped himself up on his elbows. “Hey,” he said, his voice hoarse, as I walked away. “Hey, come back tomorrow.”